College preview: Week One
Jake Shaw's previews the college action across Texas.
Find a better storyline for Casey Pachall's return to the field than what awaits him and TCU on Saturday. Beating SEC power LSU on the opening weekend of the season in the grandeur of Cowboys Stadium (err… AT&T Stadium that is) would certainly qualify as a triumphant reentry into college football.
Except Gary Patterson could probably think of a few other ways to ease his once-suspended quarterback into the game. Perhaps play that other Louisiana team on his schedule -- those Lions of Southeastern Louisiana -- in Week 1 and move LSU back to Week 2.
But that's not happening, and so Patterson and his Frogs find themselves in one of the marquee games in the nation. And while it's undoubtedly the top game in state, you'll find my breakdown at the bottom of this preview. That's because each week, I'll preview all the games involving Texas FBS teams, ranking the previews in order of my confidence in my prediction.
Southern at Houston? That's a no-brainer. To the top of the preview it goes. TCU vs LSU? My prediction changes by the minute. This game could go any number of ways, so my confidence in the outcome isn't so strong.
But that's enough about me. Let's get on to the previews of all the games involving Texas programs on the opening weekend of the 2013 season.
(as in I'm confident the Big 12 champion likely won't be decided going into the final week of the season)
> Rice at No. 7 Texas A&M, Noon Saturday, ESPN
> Why my confidence is high: This may very well be the best Rice team of this current century (though this is where the 10-win 2008 team would chime in), but as good as I expect the Owls to be, this just may be the best Texas A&M team of the century as well -- at least once the second half starts, if you haven't heard. Both programs don't have too much competitions for best team in the century, granted, as Rice is just 13-35 in the years head coach David Bailiff hasn't taken his team to a bowl game. And while A&M's had some moments, it took a switch the SEC -- and, oh yeah, the arrivals of guys named Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Manziel -- for A&M's on-field product to finally meet the demand of its fan base. But the bad times appear to be history, for now, for both programs. Rice actually has the edge in experience, bringing back 19 starters, compared to 12 for A&M. But the talent levels are so disparate -- not to mention the Aggies have it's own edge in experience: when it comes to playing against top-flight competition -- that I think A&M comes out charging from the start. In fact, not having Manziel for the first two quarters should motivate A&M even more. The Aggies will roll.
> Key stat: 90, the number of former Texas A&M freshman Polo Manukainiu, who tragically died in a car accident in late July. Every Aggie will wear this sticker on his helmet in his honor.
> The mob says: Texas A&M by 26.5
> So says I: Texas A&M 48, Rice 20
> New Mexico State at No. 15 Texas, 7 p.m. Saturday, LHN
> Why my confidence is high: Look, it's the Longhorns vs. the Aggies! This is the closet we can get to that rivalry for now. And in another bit of irony, many people would point at Texas as one of the bigger culprits for the constant conference realignment. NMSU probably has a beef with that; the Aggies of Las Cruces enter the 2013 season without a home, at least as far as conferences are concerned. The Aggies, members of the now defunct WAC in 2012, will reside in conference purgatory this year before entering the Sun Belt in 2014. Maybe it's a break NMSU needed. The program opened 2012 beating an FCS team, then went on to lose its next 11 games (the second-longest active losing streak in college football). Perhaps NMSU can start to figure things out with an "outlaw" schedule this season. Well, it won't start this week. This one won't be close. Texas has a lot of proving to do this year, both to itself and to outsiders, and the Longhorns will make a strong opening statement Saturday.
> Key stat: 23, the difference in turnover margin between these two programs in 2012. Texas was a modest +5, but New Mexico State was -18. Only two programs were worse than the Aggies last year.
> The mob says: Texas by 42
> So says I: Texas 48, New Mexico State 3
> Wofford at Baylor, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, FSN/Sports South
> Why my confidence is high: Last year, Baylor actually trailed at the half to an FCS team (it was the back-to-back second-best team in the FCS, to be fair) before going on to beat Sam Houston by nearly four touchdowns. That was the third game of the season, and perhaps the Bears weren't fully focused. That should not be a problem when Baylor meets Wofford, a perennially successful FCS team, to open the season. Baylor -- like every team in the country, really -- is more than ready to open the season. There's really no chance that Baylor will overlook Wofford. This is who the Bears have been preparing for the past 5-6 months. But what might keep it close -- and probably the reason Vegas doesn't have such a big line -- is that 1) Wofford didn't allow any team to score at least 30 points last year, partly because 2) Wofford runs an old-school triple-option offense that's proven to be effective at eating the clock and keeping the opposing offense off the field. The longer Wofford keeps guys like RB Lache Seastrunk, QB Bryce Petty and WR Tevin Reese on the sideline, the greater its chances of staying in the game. I expect that to happen early on, but Baylor's defensive adjustments will eventually allow Baylor to pull away and win decisively.
> Key stat: 334, the average weight of Baylor's five starting offensive linemen. Wofford's four starting defensive linemen average 258 pounds each.
> The mob says: Baylor by 28
> So says I: Baylor 45, Wofford 16
> Southern at Houston, 7:30 p.m. Friday, espn3.com
> Why my confidence is high: Patience is a virtue very much lacking in the sporting world this year. We might see how much Houston has of it this year. Tony Levine got off to a rocky start as the UH head coach, both in his final record and the opening game. I won't mention the score or the opponent out of respect for the Coogs fans, but Levine's coaching debut was forgettable, and it was the catalyst for a disappointing 5-7 season. This year's opener should be quite different. Southern wasn't a good FCS program last year, losing seven games -- including a 66-21 beating to New Mexico -- so Houston should glide to a win on Saturday. The patience I referenced, though, will be on watch in the second half of the season when Houston plays its first year in the newly-formed American Athletic Conference. It may be a smattering of leftover Big East and C-USA teams, but the AAC definitely offers a step up in competition. Houston needs to set a stronger tone to a comeback season by pounding Southern. Any bit of struggle, and the ensuing uneasiness will be felt far outside of the UH locker room.
> Key stat: 17, the number of tackles for a loss by Derrick Matthews as a sophomore in 2012, the 23rd most in the country, after totaling 10 as a freshman in 2011. Matthews takes over at MLB after playing on the outside the past two seasons.
> The mob says: Houston by 40
> So says I: Houston 55, Southern 14
> UTEP, bye
> Key stat: 0, the number of games Sean Kugler, hired by UTEP as it new head coach on Dec. 8 , 2012, has been a head coach at any level. He'll have to wait one more week to make his debut. UTEP has this week off before Kugler and the Miners host New Mexico Sept. 7 to open their season.
(as in I'm confident this will be the extent of Texas tweaking its traditional uniforms)
> Idaho at North Texas, 6 p.m. Saturday, no TV
> Why my confidence is medium: If he has any bit of success, don't expect Paul Petrino to stick around Idaho long. But Idaho knew that when they hired Bobby's little brother to coach a team that's gone 3-21 the past two seasons. If Petrino does turn things around, he'll go on his way, and Idaho will thank him before starting another coaching search. Such is the life of a bottom-tiered school. North Texas, meanwhile, is still waiting for its breakout season under Dan McCarney (9-15 in two seasons). This year may finally be it. Yes, North Texas has made a jump in competition, leaving the Sun Belt for C-USA, but UNT is among the most veteran team in the all the state. With nine starters back on offense -- including a third-year starting QB and one of the most under-rated RB duos, Antonine Jimmerson and Brandin Byrd -- as well as a defense returning seven (led by all-conference LB Zach Orr), if 2013 isn't the season, will it ever come for McCarney in Denton? I'm putting all the virtual eggs in UNT's basket this year. The Mean Green must take advantage of its experience. Set the tone with a whipping of Idaho Saturday, and McCarney should be able to build some momentum.
> Key stat: 29-12, the combined records of the three teams UNT has played in its previous three season openers (LSU, Florida International and Clemson) in the year prior to playing North Texas to start the season. Idaho, 1-11 last season, presents a far more beatable opening-game opponent for the Mean Green.
> The mob says: North Texas by 15
> So says I: North Texas 33, Idaho 20
> Texas State at Southern Miss, 6 p.m. Saturday, no TV
> Why my confidence is medium: Showing how serious USM is about football, first-year and only-year head coach Ellis Johnson got the boot. He had been a highly-successful SEC assistant the previous six years, but a winless season -- going 0-12 after 12-2 the year before -- sealed his fate. And so USM made the common sports reaction: After the defensive-minded Johnson failed, the Golden Eagles went the opposite direction, stealing former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Entering this game with Texas State, USM is undoubtedly looking at Texas State as its best chance to end the longest current losing streak in the country. Road dates at Nebraska, Arkansas and Boise State will follow. Lose to the Bobcats, and USM has a long wait before that streak is over. And even though Monken is inheriting a winless team, there are still remnants of the 12-2 program from two seasons ago. And this is a team that had posted winning records in 18 straight years before last year's rapid decline. Because of that, I think 2012 was an aberration. While USM might not fully turn things around, there's enough leftover for Monken to make some immediate change, starting this Saturday.
> Key stat: 65, the percentage of the rushing offense Texas State lost with the graduation of its starting backfield of QB Shawun Rutherford and RB Marcus Curry. Senior QB Tyler Arndt is returning to the lineup after starting part of his sophomore year, while projected starting RB Robert Lowe has just eight career carries.
> The mob says: Southern Miss by 8.5
> So says I: Southern Miss 30, Texas State 20
(as in I'm confident I'm a capable twerker)
> No. 12 LSU vs No. 20 TCU (in Dallas), 8 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
> Why my confidence is low: The Big 12 really wants to be heard. SEC has laid claim as the best conference in America (something you'll hear every hour of every day on ESPN), and with its run of success in the BCS title game, it's hard to argue. But top to bottom, is the Big 12 on par with the SEC? That's what Big 12 backers will say, and TCU will be the voice of that argument in one of the biggest games of the opening weekend. Some publications have picked TCU to win the Big 12; LSU is always a contender in the SEC, even if Alabama and Texas A&M are the safer picks right now. But both programs, if you were to find a consensus, are picked to finish in the 2-4 range in their respective conferences. This game could be a pretty good measurement of the depth argument between the conferences. What I'm looking for most -- how will TCU move the ball against a reloaded LSU defense, and if, conversely, LSU will be able to run the ball against a TCU defense that's always one of the best at stopping it. If either team wins both of these matchups, this game might not be close. If these two matchups get split, this game might not be decided until the final minute. That's what I'm expecting. I think LSU holds on for a win, but even with a victory, the depth debate between these two conferences might be strengthened for one side or the other, but not settled. Not if the teams play as close a game as I'm expecting. It will take a very convincing win by either team to put that debate to bed.
> Key stat: 9, the number of players LSU lost in the 2013 NFL draft, including six in the first two rounds. Another seven ex-Tigers eventually signed NFL free agent contracts. TCU only lost six total starters from its 2012 team, although two more players left during the offseason (MLB Joel Hasley and RT Tayo Fabuluje). TCU may also be without star DE Devonte Fields, who was originally suspended for the game, but rumors have surfaced that he might play.
> The mob says: LSU by 4
> So says I: LSU 19, TCU 17
> Texas Tech at SMU, 7 p.m. Friday, ESPN
> Why my confidence is low: At no point in history has the quarterback been more vital to a football team's success than now. With nearly every program running some version of a spread-it-out formation, quarterback play is crucial to a team's success. That's why Texas Tech fans have to be a bit worried about an opponent it has beaten 14 straight times. With the injury to starting QB Michael Brewer, new coach Kliff Kinsgbury has no choice but to debut a true freshman, be it Davis Webb, a 2013 signee, or Baker Mayfield, a walk-on who has turned heads this fall. Both have looked good -- at least according to the sparse reports -- in fall camp. But they are freshmen. Both of them were picking on undersized, slower defenses last season. The difference in speed between SMU and, say, Frisco (who beat Davis Webb's Prosper team a year ago), will be quite noticeable. Both of these guys may be precocious quarterbacks, but even the most promising players are guaranteed a few stumbles early on. Ask Garrett Gilbert. The next big QB at Texas never became that, and this year marks his final chance to live up to his recruiting hype. Gilbert didn't exactly flourish with his transfer to SMU, but he certainly progressed. After throwing 13 INTs in his first seven games, he had just two in his final six. He showed more confidence and made better decisions, and SMU was all the better for it. So while there are so many factors that decide football games, when it comes down to the most important position of all, I just can't ignore the glaring difference between these teams. Give me SMU in the upset.
> Key stat: 11,485, the number of rushing yards by Traylon Shead in his football career, though none have come at the FBS level. Shead rushed for 10,2912 in high school (second-most all time in Texas history) and 1,194 last year at Navarro. Between that, he played two seasons at Texas, though he never got a single carry, prompting his transfer to Navarro and eventually to signing with SMU.
> The mob says: Texas Tech by 6
> So says I: SMU 30, Texas Tech 27
> UTSA at New Mexico, 7 p.m. Saturday, KMYS-CW 35 (San Antonio market)
> Why my confidence is low: An eight-win team returning 17 starters would usually be top 25 material, but UTSA wasn't the typical eight-win team. Four of the wins came against programs playing below the FBS level. The other four UTSA victims had a combined 8-41 record in 2012. The schedule isn't so forgiving this year, not with the move to C-USA, and not with the likes of Arizona and Oklahoma State on the non-conference schedule. And even New Mexico isn't the freebie it used to be. After going 1-11 in three straight seasons, new coach Bob Davie seems to be turning UNM around, guiding the Lobos to a 4-8 season last fall. His program went from being outscored by 29 points per game to just 4. This should be a pretty good indicator at how well UTSA will adjust to the step up in competition. A win is definitely attainable. If this game were being played in San Antonio, that would be my call. But I think playing in Albuquerque -- with a better team and far more excitement than recent years -- will make enough difference to let UNM squeak by.
> Key stat: 177, the differences in rushing yards per game by New Mexico compared to rushing yards allowed per game by UTSA. New Mexico averaged 301 yards per game on the ground -- top 5 in the nation -- while UTSA ranked 20th nationally at stopping the run, allowing just 124 yards per game.
> The mob says: New Mexico by 3.5
> So says I: New Mexico 26, UTSA 23
Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com. Contact him by email whether you loved, hated, were excited by or depressed by this column.